Craig: Why we teach
Years ago (I will try to avoid dating myself here), I was at my reunion from Colgate University and having dinner with a number of dear friends. Despite a respectable academic record that had me in the top 10 percent of my class at George Washington University Law School, I had recently opted to leave law school to return to teaching. I can still remember their forlorn countenances that spoke of pity – a pity that I would not be doing something “more” with myself than eking out a living educating others.
Still, I knew when I got into this gig that I was not in it for the money. I love what I do and feel rewarded in far more significant ways. It raises my hackles, however, to hear the uninformed suggest that teachers are actually overpaid, as in the following excerpt from a response to one of my columns: “Seems educators are mostly concerned with preserving their government largess than educating our children or grandchildren.” Not only is the above comment inaccurate, it is a slap in the face of those who give of themselves to educate others.
Let’s tackle a few misconceptions right off the bat. The average teacher salary in the United States is approximately $42,100 per year according to payscale.com. This amounts to an hourly wage of just around $20. Compare this to police officers who earn $22.64 per hour but whose jobs require far less education and often do not have the profound impact on the lives of others that those in education can have. Likewise, compare this to professions of a like educational requirement such as engineers ($30.68), computer scientists ($32.86) or dentists ($35.51), all of whom double the teacher pay rate. Almost every educator with whom I have ever worked had job opportunities that would have greatly increased their financial compensation. So what drives educators to do what they do and accept less pay? Any educator worth their salt will tell you that they fully believe they make a difference in the lives of their students, and that this is why they teach.
“But what about all those long summers off?” This too is a misnomer espoused by the uninformed to suggest why teachers should be paid less. A teacher’s work day is hardly framed solely by the hours of the school day. Between curriculum development, lesson planning and grading, a substantial part of a teacher’s duties lies outside of the time allotted for instruction. Although many teachers have planning periods to accomplish some of these tasks, all teachers bring work home with them, including doing much of their planning for the year during their summers “off.”
Research supports this notion and suggests that teachers do not work less than their professional peers. In fact, to the contrary, they work more than the average American. According to the Fair Teachers Pay Association, teachers work an average of 54 hours a week (a figure I can attest to personally). Assuming a 39-week school year, this amounts to 2,108 hours worked per year. Meanwhile, the average American puts in 1,591.6 hours per year, a full 500 hours less than your average teacher. Although teachers’ time off may come in a larger chunk, the notion that they work fewer hours and thus deserve less pay is an unmitigated falsehood.
Shortly after that dinner many years ago, my friend Justin told me to ignore the comments of our other friends at the table because money is no more than a social construction utilized by society to shape or condition our patterns of behavior. Still, do we really think we can enhance the current woes of our educational system by lowering teacher salaries? If we truly want to make education a priority moving forward, we need to make teacher compensation commiserate with the professionalism we should expect.
Steven Craig is a Silverthorne resident, educator, husband and father of two, and vice-president of the Summit County Library Board. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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